Review of The Green Good News: Christ’s Path to Sustainable and Joyful Life, by T. Wilson Dickinson. Cascade Books, 2019. By John Henson.
During long days of stay at home in an effort to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, I began reading a book with a title I found hard to believe–The Green Good News: Christ’s Path to Sustainable and Joyful Life. Good news has been hard to come by as COVID-19 has been running its course freely, taking the lives of 100,000 people in the United States at the time of this writing. Prior to shutting down from the virus, the world was already in trouble, especially with the ongoing effects of what we humans have been doing to the earth and its environment. The effects are becoming unavoidable and scientists around the world continue to tell us that we are running out of time to stop the devastating consequences of our actions and inactions. Many scientists have stated that some of the damage is already irreversible. With rising temperatures, water levels, weather extremes, carbon emissions, and resource consumption, there has been very little good in the news. I wasn’t sure there could be any good news in a book with such a title but was pleasantly surprised to find it. Wilson Dickinson shares it throughout the book as he guides the reader along the narrow pathway of Jesus in the gospels, pointing to the words and life of one who didn’t just share good news but embodied. Such good news wasn’t just good for the people of Jesus’ time; it is good for us in ours as well.
It is clear that Dickinson has found the good news of Jesus as it pertains to all things green. While admitting in the beginning his indifference to the green world around him and not being one who would have ever been considered as an outdoorsman, he writes of how he was converted in many ways by the green good news he discovered in the Bible, sharing the words of Jesus that have informed his awareness about the world around him and that have shaped him to live them out to create life that is sustainable and joyful. The content he shares, therefore, is not just academic; it comes from his application and practice of the green good news.
Dickinson divides the book into two parts. Part I, New Covenant, is about partnering in relationship with God for the world, focusing on how proclaiming the good news puts Jesus at the crossroads of earth and empire, involves cultivating gardens with Jesus the gardener, and transforming food systems. Part II, Practices of the Kingdom, focuses on the good green news Jesus shared in his parables, the healing Jesus provided for bodies and social systems, and the way that Jesus practiced the kingdom of God in transformative ways with food shared around dinner tables.
Several things stood out to me in the book. First, Dickinson writes from an awareness of the context Jesus lived in and the challenge he had to speak and teach about God’s kingdom while living in the reality of the rule of the Roman empire. Dickinson helps the reader understand what a dangerous place this was for Jesus as he used his words and actions to not only counter the empire but to call out people within his own religion who were colluding with its injustice. Dickinson notes that “Christ’s protest announces the crisis of the imperial order and points toward the path of another way of life. The cross of Christ asks us: to whom do we belong and which path will we follow–God’s or Caesar’s?” He challenges the reader to see the connections between the wealthy and elite of the empire and the suffering of the most vulnerable in our world. Seeing the connections requires paying attention to the words and actions of Jesus, living holistically, and paying attention to the ecosystems of the world. For Dickinson, living with such connections “is to begin to live into the wisdom of both ecology and Jesus.”
Another part of this book that stood out to me is the author’s focus on healing. Healing of our environment is an obvious focus of the book, one addressed with particularity and practical points of application. But Dickinson also gives his attention to the kind of healing Jesus provided for people, those who were inflicting harm on God’s creation and those who were targets and recipients of their harm. One example Dickinson gives is of the centurion who looked to the Roman empire for his power and needs but finds an even greater power when he turns to Jesus to bring healing to his household. Like the centurion, the world can find in Jesus the power to heal for what ails our planet, our bodies, and our souls. Jesus transfers that power of healing to his followers, who are “to renew covenantal communities and restore the relationships between God, neighbor, and the land.” Dickinson emphasizes that the heart of this healing from Jesus and his followers is “the rejection of the imperial way of living that is centered upon greed, consumption, hoarding, exploitation, and violence.”
One other part of the book that stood out to me is in the Conclusion, where Dickinson recommends the Lord’s Prayer as a “polar star of the green gospel.” Prayer, as Dickinson sees it, is “a practice embedded in daily life that is attentive to the contours of a place.” He recommends the Lord’s Prayer as it “brings the ways of God and our everyday practice together as dancing partners,” with the first part, the opening petitions, setting our vision on the kingdom of God on this earth, and the second part of the prayer focusing on daily bread and practices. It could also be said that the prayer is a therapeutic to the skepticism and negativism that one can so often feel when considering the increasing and overwhelming aspects of the environmental devastation of our world today.
I recommend the book for several reasons. First, it is well written. Dickinson has a gift with words, expressing his ideas with prose that invites the reader to consider and engage with his views. Second, this book is great for Christians who are wanting to consider being green in our world and to work from a biblical vision of peace and justice. Dickinson gives them plenty to think about when it comes to how faith and action must work together when it comes to stewardship of this planet. Third, this book is great for church book studies and small groups, as it approaches the issues presented throughout the book from biblical texts and has discussion questions for each chapter.
While constantly being confronted by the bad news during this COVID-19 pandemic, reading The Green Good News has been an exercise in hope and a call to action for the future of our fragile planet.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.